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Report of Nancy M. Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian

Notable Events

Notable Events


During a time period marked by significant milestones, Houghton Library focused much effort on planning five major events over the course of 2008–2009. These events brought scholars from near and far to Harvard to experience firsthand the richness and depth of its collections.

The first of these major events took place in October 2008, when noted filmmaker Ken Burns gave a lecture, "Distance in His Eyes," and showed clips from his new documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's birth. An avid outdoorsman, hunter, and naturalist, Roosevelt's commitment to conservationism led him to play a significant role in the early development of America's national parks, doubling the number from five to ten during his presidency and setting the stage for future additions. Burns's film explores the history of America's parks from the mid-1800s onward. His talk marked the opening of a special exhibition mounted to honor the Roosevelt sesquicentennial, Through the Camera Lens: Theodore Roosevelt and the Art of Photography. Drawing on Harvard's Theodore Roosevelt Collection, a world-renowned resource for the study of the life and times of the 26th president, the exhibition explored Roosevelt from several perspectives, including his mastery of the media and his love of the outdoors.

In 2009, Houghton celebrated another presidential milestone—the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. The celebration began in February with the exhibition Harvard's Lincoln, which included a broad array of items from Houghton's collections, from letters, books, and manuscripts to sculpture and physical objects believed to be associated with Lincoln, including an axe he purportedly sold while working as a store clerk, and a ticket stub from Ford's Theatre on the night of his assassination. In April a two-day symposium, Abraham Lincoln at 200: New Perspectives on his Life and Legacy, was held featuring dozens of historians and Lincoln scholars, among them Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust and noted author Doris Kearns Goodwin. Symposium topics studied a number of aspects of Lincoln's career, such as his views on race and slavery, his role as Commander-in-Chief, his use of the press to shape public opinion, his relationship with Congress and his influence on the legislative process, and his role as a politician and as a party leader.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the groundbreaking Ballets Russes, the Harvard Theatre Collection (HTC), in cooperation with Harvard's Office for the Arts and the Harvard Dance Program, sponsored a symposium entitled Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: Twenty Years That Changed the World of Art. Established by Diaghilev in 1909, the Ballets Russes quickly grew into an international phenomenon, performing in Paris, Monte Carlo, and London. Though his original aim was to promote Russian culture, Serge Diaghilev's productions are today recognized as having fundamentally altered the notion of what a ballet could be through a unique combination of artists, writers, choreographers, and dancers. The three-day centennial symposium held in April included lectures and panel discussions on subjects ranging from androgyny in the Ballets Russes to Stravinsky's involvement with the company to Diaghilev's early life. The accompanying HTC exhibition included hundreds of items: original works of art, ballet manuscripts, original scores, portraits of dancers, original costumes, letters from Diaghilev, several large posters advertising performances, and even a rare manuscript detailing the choreography for the ballet The Sleeping Princess.

Marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, dozens of scholars from across the country and overseas gathered at Houghton Library for the symposium "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A Sesquicentennial Assessment." During the symposium, screenings were held of several Sherlock Holmes films, presented by the Harvard Film Archive. The three-day event was complemented by an exhibition of Doyle material, "Ever Westward": Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and American Culture, which included rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera from Houghton's collections, including the H.W. Bell/Speckled Band of Boston Collection and the Baker Street Irregulars archive, which had been recently given to the library.

Culminating the year of celebrations, the three-day event "Johnson at 300: A Houghton Library Symposium" drew more than a hundred Johnsonians from all over the world and was the largest scholarly celebration of Samuel Johnson in the United States. The event was complemented by the exhibition A Monument More Durable Than Brass, featuring Johnson's earliest surviving letter, his earliest diaries (kept in Latin), rare manuscript fragments from the original Dictionary, and even the great man's silver teapot. The items on display were drawn from Houghton's Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson, one of the world's most important collections of 18th-century literature, comprising thousands of letters, manuscripts, first editions, portraits, and other items. Following the bequest of the collection, the library was able to fully catalog the entire collection, making these extraordinary resources readily accessible to scholars.

Each event's accompanying exhibition allowed library users unable to attend the symposia and lectures the opportunity to experience the richness of these collections. Published catalogs accompanied the Lincoln and Doyle exhibitions, with Harvard's Lincoln issued as a double issue of the Harvard Library Bulletin (Fall–Winter 2008). In addition to these exhibition catalogs, two other publications highlighting Houghton collections were issued during the past year: Audubon: Early Drawings and The Theatrical World of Angus McBean.

In addition to Houghton Library's major symposia, other lectures, publications, and significant activities in HCL this past year included:

  • Three Harvard undergraduates were awarded the 2009 Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting: the first-place winner was John Sheffield '09, for his collection of books, military training manuals, and other materials preserving documentary evidence remains from Argentina's brutal military dictatorship; the second-place winner was Adam Singerman '09, for his collection of grammars, dictionaries, books, and archeological materials examining the modern Mayan languages of Guatemala; and third place went to Marykate Jasper '11, for her collection of books of different variations on the Robin Hood story that she began collecting in junior high school.
  • For the seventh of eight consecutive years, literary works first published in Harvard Review have been selected for inclusion in the highly selective Best American series, and have been nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize. Harvard Review is published twice yearly, in spring and fall.
  • On October 27–29, 2008, the Judaica Division hosted an international conference on the topic Sixty Years of Israeli Culture: Creativity and Documentation, attended by scholars, curators of Israeli cultural institutions, and key figures in the Israeli cultural establishment, who each gave a presentation on his/her area of specialization. The conference provided a rare opportunity for a wide-ranging discussion of Israeli culture and highlighted Harvard's key role in the documentation of Israeli culture through the Judaica Division's comprehensive collecting of Israeli print and non-print materials. Two musical events were held in conjunction with the conference: the world premiere of a concerto by conference participant and Israeli composer Gil Shohat, commissioned and performed by the Portland String Quartet, and a concert by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project of Israeli classical music in honor of Israel's 60th anniversary. The latter featured the world premiere of a concerto by Israeli composer Betty Olivero.
  • To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Harvard-Yenching Library, the Dr. Alfred Kaiming Chiu Memorial Symposium was held in the Forum Room on October 31, 2008. The founding librarian of the Harvard-Yenching Library from 1927 until his retirement in 1965, Dr. Chiu was instrumental in collecting and acquiring the various rare book collections in the Library. Several Harvard faculty members participated in the symposium by giving lectures on their use of the rare book collections in Harvard-Yenching Library for their teaching and research. Dozens of scholars from around the world, and all of Dr. Chiu's children and their families, attended the event.
  • In December 2008, the Sound Directions Toolkit, a suite of 40-some separate pieces of open-source software designed by Loeb Music Library's Audio Preservation Studio to automate collecting of metadata for audio preservation, was released to the public. The release met with significant international approbation. It represents Harvard's final contribution to the initial phase of the Sound Directions project in conjunction with Indiana University and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • The Harvard Map Collection mounted the following three exhibitions, giving library users the opportunity to view a range of items from its collections: From the Amazon to the Volga: Cartographic Representation of Rivers; Taking Measure of Rhode Island: A Cartographical Tour; and Gleams of a Remoter World: Mapping the European Alps.
  • During FY 2009 the Harvard Film Archive (HFA) offered 333 programs in which 517 different films were shown; attendance for the year was 19,593. The HFA continued to develop and expand collaborative partnerships with other campus organizations with the goal of creating a film program with strong curricular ties to specific Harvard courses and research interests. Highlights of the HFA's cinematheque program included: Recent Work by Mahamet Saleh-Haroun, co-presented with the Film Study Center; Yuri Norstein, Russian Animator, co-presented with Department of Visual and Environmental Studies; Albert Serra, Radical Classicist, co-presented with the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures; Two Films by So-Yong Kim, co-presented with the Korea Institute; and Tulpan by Sergey Dvortsevoy, co-presented with the Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies.
  • The online exhibition Public Poet, Private Man: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at 200 received the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) 2009 Katharine Kyes Leab and Daniel J. Leab "American Book Prices Current" Exhibition Award for online exhibitions. The exhibition, built on Houghton's Longfellow holdings, with highlights from the collections of the Longfellow National Historic Site exhibition, was cited as "an excellent model for ways in which large bodies of digitally reproduced materials, with good metadata, can be selected and articulated within a meaningful virtual gallery space." The online exhibition was the result of a collaborative effort of HCL Communications and Houghton's Modern Books and Manuscripts Department
  • The Middle Eastern Division had the distinct pleasure of creating the 12 millionth bibliographical record in HOLLIS: Sharh hudÅ«d al-Ubbadi fi 'ilm al-nahw, a work on Arabic grammar by the 17th-century author Ali ibn Ahmad al-Rasmuki, itself a commentary on the Kitab al-Hudud of the 15th-century author Shihab al-Din al-Ubbadhi (edited by al-Bashir al-Tahali and published in Agadir, Morocco, in 2009). It is also notable that Arabic is only one of 78 languages in which the Middle Eastern Division catalogs and processes materials.

FY 2009 began with HCL Technical Services engaged in the first year of a two-year strategic process to incorporate changes in workflows, increase use of technology, and better leverage staff skills and expertise, with the ultimate mission of improving access to library content or creation of metadata to better serve today's faculty and students.